tv Forensic Files CNN June 13, 2014 1:00am-1:31am PDT
doesn't lie. it doesn't make up stories. it's what it is. the lake was deep, the night was dark, the collision fatal. the only clues were some chips of paint, a tiny piece of foam, and the fatal wound. was it enough to tell investigators what happened? according to native american legend, the great spirit scratched his hand across the land, and in doing so, created the finger lakes of upstate new york. the biggest is cayuga lake, long
and narrow, and it's a popular vacation destination. >> a lot of people go there to go swimming, picnics, barbecue, any major functions, birthdays, everyone goes there, to the park. >> cayuga lake is crowded in the summer with boating, water skiing, and other lake activities. around midnight on a friday night, harry uhl, a local celebrity, decided to take his new boat out on the lake for a ride. harry was a well-known stock car race driver who went by the nickname hurricane harry. >> harry loved the lake. he loved to fish. he loved to swim. he loved everything about the lake. >> around 2:00 a.m., harry headed for shore in his boat so two of his friends could get out and use the bathroom. 18-year-old nasreen raza stayed on board with harry. >> i was just sitting up there
by myself. from what i remember, that's where i was. that's the best view, so i can imagine that's where i would be sitting. >> since it was a nice night and the lake was calm, harry didn't tie his boat to the dock, so it drifted while he waited for his friends to return. then they heard a loud noise. harry stood up, and there was a crash. >> there was blood everywhere. i felt like a big monster or something came out of the water and bit my arm off. >> harry uhl was pronounced dead at the scene. he was just 27 years old. >> he died instantly. he was probably standing up to try to figure out what was coming. and then just got -- just got hit in the dark by this massive object. >> harry's passenger, nasreen raza, was rushed to the hospital after losing an enormous amount of blood.
>> her arm was just about torn off. her arm was shredded. the doctors had to do just about everything they could to try and save her arm from being completely amputated. >> no one claimed responsibility for the crash. investigators were certain it was a boat and began the enormous task of searching for it among the 1,200 boats on the lake. >> they did flyovers. they rode up and down the lake in the patrol boats looking for signs. >> there is so many points of entrance at cayuga lake that it was uncertain where the other boater might have entered or left from, and it was really a guessing game at that point. >> to eliminate the guesswork, police brought in a vessel accident reconstructionist to investigate the crash. >> there is no question that a terrible tragedy had occurred on the lake that night. there is no question that the person who had committed it had left the area and had no
intention of turning himself in. >> but finding evidence wouldn't be easy. the lake was one of the deepest in the country, and the currents were unpredictable. >> everything is continuously moving. if there is any debris in the water, it moves, it drifts away. it may sink to the bottom. >> the lake leaves no trace. it just erases any sign of what happens, so you're left with very little to determine, you know, where the perpetrator went, where they came from, what their speed was, very difficult. okay buddy, what's your favorite kind of cheerios? honey nut. but... chocolate is my other favorite... but apple cinnamon is my favorite too... and fruity... oh yeah, and frosted! okay, but...what's you're most favorite of all? hmm... the kind i have with you. me too.
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the investigation of the boating accident that killed harry uhl and severely injured nasreen raza took a number of unusual twists and turns. >> when i first got there, and looking at this boat, i was awestruck at what i was seeing. >> it looked like something had plowed right through the center of the boat. it was like a big v-shaped hole, right where the bow was supposed to be, like something had driven right through it. >> the victim's boat held some important clues. there was evidence that the
boat's lights were off when the crash occurred. >> there was no bow lights activated. the switch was not activated. the anchor light was not in its stanchion hole and it was plugged with a rubber plug. it was quite obvious that the boat that got hit was not lit that evening. >> there were numerous chop marks along the top side of the boat that actually cut through the upholstery. analysts realized these were from a spinning propeller, proof that the boat actually left the water and flew over the top of harry's boat. >> the suspect vessel as it was traveling at a high rate of speed, tends to lift out of the water and be a little bit higher. on impact, it would launch the front of the suspect vessel in a 45-degree angle up into the air. >> medical experts believe that the wounds to nasreen raza were also caused by the propeller.
the investigators found a bullet-shaped hole in the forward section of harry uhl's boat. this was created by the engine of the other boat. >> the bullet that punched through the hull of the boat indicated to us that it was an inboard-outboard motor, also that the boat was traveling at a high rate of speed for it to be able to punch its way through the fiberglass and continue on through and over top of the other boat. >> other information about the perpetrator's boat came from an unlikely source, harry uhl's autopsy. the medical examiner found chips of white paint in harry's wounds. >> which just gives you a picture of how fast and how intense this crash must have been to leave such evidence in the wounds. >> investigators were also intrigued by another finding. there were no marine organisms
in harry's wounds. this was very revealing. >> we were able to determine that that vessel had either a very clean boat, or more likely, that it was based on a trailer. when a boat goes on a trailer, a lot of times, it's either easy to clean and people clean them off, or all the organisms dry up and they wash off. >> investigators now knew they were looking for a damaged white boat with a v-shaped hull and an inboard-outboard engine. they knew its propeller was broken and it would be kept on a trailer and not docked in the water. the sheriff's department released this information to the media and asked anyone with information to come forward. >> there was a big manhunt. the victim was a local celebrity. it was a very, very publicized incident. >> a day later, a caller gave police the location of a damaged boat that looked like it had
been involved in a collision. >> and it had what appeared to be some damage to the bow and some damage to the one side of the boat, and had some fresh, like, compound marks in the paint on the boat. and looking at the dashboard, there was what appeared to be a small drop of blood near the shift lever near the driver's compartment. >> the boat was impounded and searched. >> everybody thought the case had been solved. we have our bad guy right now. the vessel in question is right here. we have it. >> but forensic tests found that the paint on this boat was different from the paint found in harry uhl's wounds, and there was no significant damage to its propeller. in addition, dna tests showed the blood in the boat was not harry uhl's or nasreen raza's. so, investigators resumed their search, knowing that each day gave the perpetrator more time
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honor. his passenger in the boat that night, nasreen raza, survived, but her arm will never function properly. >> i can look at my arm and just see an ugly, deformed arm, but there are some days that i look at it and i just get this wave of flashback. oh, my god, someone died. it could have been me. it just feels so close to death, it's creepy. >> police appeal to the public through newspapers, radio, and television, asking anyone with information about this crash to come forward. [ phone rings ] finally, four days after the accident, a man called the sheriff's department with a possible lead. >> i told him, i said, i think i was a passenger on the boat that hit the other boat. >> john ottenschot, a construction worker, said he was riding in a boat on cayuga lake, and he said the boat hit
something, although he didn't know what it was. >> it's just -- it was so dark. overcast. we couldn't see anything in the lake. i knew we didn't hit a log. i don't think it would take us out of the water as far as it did, because we were all the way out of the water. we did know we hit something big. >> ottenschot claimed they circled back to see what they hit but didn't see anything, so they drove their boat to the launch, removed it from the water, and drove home. he identified the driver of the boat as his co-worker, floyd wright. he said he wanted wright to go to the police with him, but wright refused. >> and he says, well, i don't want to lose my job. i'm going to lose my job. i'm going to lose my house. i says, well, this guy lost his life. this is wrong. >> when police questioned floyd
wright, he, too, said he didn't know what they hit. >> it was a head-on collision. it was nose to nose. >> we don't know because we didn't see it. >> i know because i've seen the boat. >> i'm just saying, i was there -- >> i'm not asking. i'm telling you. >> we heard a thud and we turned around and we looked and we didn't see nothing and we didn't hear nothing. so, we figured we'd better get off the water, you know, people were -- because we didn't know what damage we had. >> i find it very difficult to believe that wright could not hear the screams of the female passenger in mr. uhl's boat. we have witnesses on shore, you know, several hundred feet away who could hear her screams for help. >> wright admitted that he was drinking that day, but insisted he wasn't intoxicated. >> i had about five or six beers for the whole day. we went out on the water that day, had pepsi most of the time.
>> with a warrant, police searched wright's property and found the boat in his barn. >> you could see, readily see, that repairs had been made to the boat. the bondo and the material on the boat was not flush with the original fiberglass. and it had been spray-painted. areas had been spray-painted white. >> if there had been blood or any other evidence on the boat's hull, it had already been removed and repainted. the propeller had also been removed, but was still in the barn, broken beyond repair. >> that propeller, all three tines of it, showed extensive damage, denting and tearing of the metal. >> there was no blood or human tissue on the propeller, nor did investigators expect to find any since the water would have washed it away. but amazingly, the propeller had
a tiny crack, and inside was a minute piece of what looked like foam. >> it was nothing short of a miracle that the tiny piece of foam had stuck in the prop when you consider the dynamic forces going on. >> trace evidence expert ron stanbro analyzed the material under a microscope. >> i did not have very much sample to work with, but it was more than enough for the analysis that we were required to do. >> the foam from the propeller looked very similar to the foam padding from the seat in harry uhl's boat. so, stanbro went a step further, using a process known as fourier transform infrared. >> it's shining an infrared light through that substance, and the molecules within that substance are stretching and vibrating, and then we're measuring the absorbance of that infrared light in that sample. >> this provided a chemical fingerprint of the polyurethane in both samples.
>> they were indistinguishable, one from the other. so, we could conclude from that that they were made up of the same substance, and therefore, they could have common origin. >> but this wasn't conclusive. so, stanbro compared the paint chips from harry's body to the paint on floyd's boat. they were heated to 800 degrees centigrade and vaporized so that their chemical components could be measured by a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer. again, the chemical composition of both samples was identical. prosecutors now had enough forensic evidence to link floyd wright's boat to the hit-and-run accident. [ male announcer ] this is the age of knowing what you're made of. why let erectile dysfunction get in your way? talk to your doctor about viagra. ask if your heart is healthy enough for sex. do not take viagra if you take nitrates for chest pain. it may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure.
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based on the forensic evidence, prosecutors say they know what happened on the night of the fatal accident. after taking a ride around the lake, harry uhl stopped at the dock to let two of his passengers use the bathroom. for reasons unknown, harry didn't tie up his boat, so it drifted into the boating lane without its running lights on.
floyd wright and john ottenschot admitted they were drinking, but claim they weren't intoxicated. they said they didn't see harry's boat because its lights weren't on. the propeller tore through nasreen's arm and the boat's upholstery. the hull struck harry in the head, killing him instantly and leaving paint chips on his body. some think floyd turned around to see what he hit, and not only saw the damage, but also heard nasreen's screams. floyd wright and john ottenschot deny this. wright took his boat out of the water and stored it in his barn so he could begin to make repairs. he always claimed he didn't know
he hit harry uhl's boat. >> they knew exactly what they had hit. they absolutely knew. there's no way you could hit a full-sized boat and not know that you have hit something significant or think that you've hit a log or driftwood. it's ridiculous. >> if they would have had their lights on on that boat, we would have seen it. i can guarantee it, that we would have seen it. >> there was no way to know what floyd wright's blood alcohol level was that night. in new york state, this severely limited the prosecutor's case. >> you have to show that the accident was causally related to the drinking. there has to be that close connection. new york requires it. so, just the fact that he had a few drinks throughout the course of the day doesn't necessarily mean that is the cause of the death. you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that that's the connection. >> being intoxicated shouldn't be a way out of being held responsible.
the fact that he was able to run from the scene and he wasn't charged with anything related to intoxication just makes you question whether our laws have a loophole in allowing someone to leave the scene of a crime so that they can't be charged with being drunk at that time. >> coincidentally, wright's automobile driver's license was suspended at the time due to an arrest for driving while intoxicated. floyd wright was charged with tampering with physical evidence and failing to report an accident. he pled not guilty at the trial, but was convicted and sentenced to the maximum of four years in prison. >> and that's like the issue with me. you hit me and you didn't help me. you just left me there to bleed to death. that bothers me a lot. and the thing is, physically, yeah, i'm hurt, but i hate to, like, live with the fact that i have to, like, hate someone my whole life.
that's not a good feeling for me. it feels like a heavy part on your chest. feeling something like that for someone is not good. i don't like to feel that, but i do. >> in return for his testimony at the grand jury, john ottenschot was given immunity from prosecution. he now admits that he and floyd were intoxicated. >> i'll say, legally, we were probably drunk. we'd have got a dwi if i had have gotten pulled over on the way home or if we had gotten pulled over on the way home. probably definitely. >> it was the paint chips, the accident reconstruction, and particularly, the tiny piece of foam trapped in the crack of the propeller that proved the case. >> the most damaging part of the evidence was that piece of foam that had stayed on floyd wright's boat from harry's boat, told everybody that that was the
boat that hit and killed harry. >> it's amazing what science can do. it's amazing. otherwise, it would have been he said-she said, you know? but it's amazing what science can do. a christian missionary was murdered in her apartment. the perpetrator left little evidence behind. but a new computer program found clues on a bloody sheet. and the case made forensic history. >> kirkland, washington, an upscale suburb of seattle, which has some of the best educated citizens in the united states. over 95% have either a high school or a college diploma. 27-year-old dawn fehring fit